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Ridgefield Girl Walks To Fight Brain Tumors In Memory Of Her Father

Jessica and Diane Boxer of Ridgefield walk together in 2012 for their first fundraising walk as part of "Russell's Legacy" team in the Brain Tumor Walk NY to raise money for brain tumor research. Photo Credit: National Brain Tumor Society
Members of "Russel's Legacy" gather at the Brain Tumor Walk NY in red shirts to honor the memory of Russell Paniccia, who died in 2000 after a two-year battle with a brain tumor. Photo Credit: National Brain Tumor Society

RIDGEFIELD,Conn. – Ridgefield eighth-grader Jessica Boxer knew her father for exactly one year and four days before she lost him to a brain tumor. And now at age 13, she is getting to know him by raising money for brain tumor research.

On Saturday, Boxer and her uncle, Dominic Paniccia, will participate in the Brain Tumor Walk NY for the second time, hoping to raise $30,000 for research again. They participated in the walk for the first time last year. With more than 40 team “Russell’s Legacy” members, they helped to remember and honor Russell Paniccia, who died of a glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM, in 2000 after a two-year battle.

According to Tom Halkin of the National Brain Tumor Society, GBM is the most common and deadly form of malignant brain tumors. The average life expectancy for GBM patients is only 15 months and only 4 percent make it five years.

For Paniccia, it’s a way to both help keep his brother's memory alive for his daughter and the rest of the family while helping to raise awareness about brain tumors and the research that needs to be done to help those who are diagnosed.

Last year, Paniccia said, “I emailed Jess and her mom and my wife, and I said, 'I think [the walk] is a great idea, it’s probably a lot of work but it will be a great way to honor Jessica’s father and my brother.'” And he said the response they received has been overwhelming.

Each team member raises money, and Boxer is just below her uncle in raising the most. She and her friends at Scotts Ridge Middle School held a bake sale during this year’s Memorial Day Parade and raised more than $300 for her team. She also based her civil action project for school this year on the walk and brain tumors.

“I feel like every time I raise more money it’s like I’m getting closer to him and that he knows that I’m trying to make a difference and help him and helping others so that their families don’t have to go through the heartbreak that we went through,” Boxer said.

Not all 49 team members will show up at the walk Saturday morning on Governors Island. But as of Thursday, Team Russell’s Legacy had raised more than $24,000 and is the third highest fundraiser for the walk.

The walk itself isn’t so much an end because the fundraising continues afterward. But it’s something both Paniccia and Boxer look forward to.

“The day itself is very gratifying,” Paniccia said. “I think it’s just a great day to celebrate everything we’ve done.”

At the end of the walk, Boxer said she feels like she knows her father better, because her father’s friends and family share stories as they walk.

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